LIVE REVIEW: David Byrne & St. Vincent @ State Theatre, Sydney (18/01/13)

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by Chris Familton

Take a musical icon who has made a career out of balancing art and popular music, combine him with a quirky indie songstress and you have a fascinating meeting of age, gender and artistic creativity. David Byrne & St Vincent released their album Love This Giant last year and received much praise for their translation of the songs from record to stage, making their appearance at this year’s Sydney Festival one of the ‘hot picks’ – as they say in the biz.

On arrival we were greeted with a stage haphazardly littered with all manner of brass instruments, a drum kit and keyboards. The air was full of the sound of loud chirping and tweeting birds, the  purpose of which never became clear but it signaled that the performance was going to be richly imbued with arthouse aesthetics, a creatively constructed mood.

Opening with Who, the first track on the album, the immediate impact of the horns was a physical one. Dynamic, uber-tight and covering the full sonic spectrum these weren’t instruments intended to add mere accents and colour to the songs, they were the songs – replacing percussion, bass and most of the time providing their main melodic impetus. The result was an exhilarating fusion of New Orleans funk, low-slung hip hop and art pop. Musical pop art in its purest sense. What also quickly became apparent was the dismantling of the traditional horn line standing at the rear or side of the stage, static and devoid of personality. These players had been given the task of both faultlessly playing the songs (which they did) and performing choreographed movements around the stage. The result definitely enhanced the performance by giving it motion and treating the stage as a complete spatial palette rather than just a band playing to a crowd.

Byrne and St. Vincent generally remained front and centre as they wove most of the album and selected highlights from their own catalogues into the ninety minute show. As is always the hope with a band’s live performance, everything sounded much better live than on record. It was as if the songs had come to life like characters leaping from a page. Byrne is still the definitive quirky frontman, both the consummate performer and the slightly behind the pace, middle aged man trying to keep up in an aerobic class. That is a central part of his charm and why he has become the enigma he is. Vocally his voice is still superb, full of range and those sliding notes he utilises so well. St Vincent on the other hand is a much tighter performer, possibly more self-aware but not to the extent that it hinders her. She shimmied about via tiny stuttering footsteps and marionette movements all the while playing some standout guitar solos. She started off sounding slightly off, missing a few notes and sounding weaker in voice than Byrne but after a few songs she hit her stride and never looked back.

Of the album tracks, I Should Watch TV and a beautiful rendition of Outside Of Space And Time rose above as real highlights but the crowd unsurprisingly reacted the strongest to versions of some of Byrnes finest moments. This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) was faithfully and gorgeously rendered while Lazy and the ‘hits’ Burning Down The House and Road To Nowhere were perfectly suited to the horn arrangements and had many on their feet nostalgically enjoying the present moment. Not to be outdone, St. Vincent delivered wonderful takes on her songs Cheerleader and The Party.

This show took an album that didn’t always work and successfully transformed it into a living, breathing piece of musical theatre that felt like a fresh take on contemporary music performance, full of personality, quirk, intelligence and humour.

this review was first published on Fasterlouder

ALBUM REVIEW: David Byrne & St. Vincent | Love This Giant

by Chris Familton

Musical pairings are a common event for individual songs but two artists collaborating to produce an album’s worth of music doesn’t happen as often as one would expect. David Byrne has always been a songwriter with a strong sense of curiosity and communality, whether it be the polymorphic approach to his work in Talking Heads and their melding of funk, pop, soul and new wave to collaborations with Brian Eno and Dirty Projectors and a number of film, theatre and dance scores. Not to be outdone, St. Vincent (Annie Clark) has also shown herself to be a keen musical explorer on her three solo records as well as working with the likes of Beck, Bon Iver and Kid Cudi.

At Clark’s suggestion the two focused their writing around a brass section which immediately created a third pillar,alongside their own styles, with which to construct the songs on Love This Giant. The horns provide the narrative musical thread to the album, whether it is the New Orleans swinging staccato exclamations of the catchy first single Who or the mellifluous, wandering sound of the closing track Outside Of Space And Time where they act as a third lead voice in the chorus.

The title of the album refers to humanity and the bulk of the songs take on similarly grand subjects from the natural world such as apes, the Ice Age, lightening, space and time. They approach these themes from artful angles, cloaking them in parallel tales of relationships as on Ice Age where Clark sounds eerily like Siouxsie Sioux circa Peek-A-Boo in the verses and technological metaphors in the case of I Should Watch TV.

What makes this record such a successful collaboration is how the duo never stray from their melodic strengths and pop nous or get too weighed down by pretension or artful experimentalism. That isn’t to say they don’t push the envelope. The Forest Awakes possesses clever overlapping percussion and brass rhythms of the type that Bjork trades in. Clark seems to float over the top of the rhythmic clatter,weaving a wonderful innocent sounding melody before those iconic clipped guitar chords of Byrne’s enter the layered fray.

Byrne’s best and most obvious moment comes with I Should Watch TV where he delivers his most ‘David Byrne’ vocal. Those familiar yelps and wailing chants drive the song along while the ever present horns build a glorious wall of brass.

One of the highlights of Love This Giant comes as a brief respite from the often bombastic brass. Lazarus is given space for the focus to fall on the vocal interplay between Clark and Byrne. Though they hardly sing together on the song the juxtaposition of their voices makes it the most natural sounding and rewarding duet on the album with Clark providing cooing backing harmonies to Byrnes undulating melodic delivery.

Love This Giant is an album of post-modern art pop of the type that Dirty Projectors, Bjork and Grizzly Bear excel at. It sounds both utterly contemporary yet it stylistically references and celebrates many different musical strands of the last century. It often succeeds and occasionally fails yet across all twelve tracks it is endlessly fascinating.

this review was first published on undertheradar.co.nz

 

VIDEO: BECK’S Record Club | Guns In The Sky (INXS)

Beck has convened the 4th session in his Record Club that features a revolving line-up of guest musicians. This one features Liars, Annie Clark and Daniel Hart from St. Vincent, Sergio Dias from the legendary Brazilian band Os Mutantes, as well as RC veteran Brian Lebarton, just back from the Charlotte Gainsbourg tour. The record covered this time was 1987 blockbuster ‘Kick’ by INXS. The record was chosen by fellow Aussie, Angus from the Liars. It was recorded in a little over 12 hours on March 3rd, 2010.

In the words of Beck…

It was an intense, hilarious, daunting and completely fun undertaking. Thanks to everybody for being there and putting so much into it. Many classic moments, inspired performances and occasional anarchy.

Vodpod videos no longer available.